Counseling Theories Outline

The understanding of dynamics pertaining to resolution of varied
problems pertaining to families has been extremely crucial. It has
necessitated the devising of theories and models of therapies that would
be employed in this endeavor, including the ones discussed below.
Bowen family systems
Key Concepts
The Nuclear Family- this underlines 4 patterns of relationship that
manage marital conflict, emotional distance and dysfunction, as well as
impairment in one or more children, governing the development of
problems in the family.
Multigenerational transmission process- the concept outlines the manner
in which minute variations in the differentiation levels between
offspring and their parents result in marked variations in
differentiation among individuals from multigenerational families. The
relationship between people results in differences that are transmitted
across generations (American Psychological Association, 2006).
Levels of variation of self- this concepts underlines the fact that as
much as social groups and families affect the manner in which
individuals act, feel and act, there are variations in the
susceptibility of individuals to group-think. On the same note, there
are variations in the amount of pressure that groups exert on an
individual for conformity. The magnitude of impact that groupthink has
on an individual is determined by the level of development (American
Psychological Association, 2006).
Triangles- this refers to a three person syetem of relationship, which
is considered to be part of a larger emotional system. These triangles
may put social control via incorporating a third part when tension
increases between two individuals or put an individual out.
Societal emotional process- the concept outlines the manner in which
behavior on the societal level is governed by the emotional system just
like in a family, which encourages regressive, as well as progressive
periods within the society.
Key Theorists
Murray Bowen (1913- 1990)
Appropriate Populations
This theory is appropriate for populations there is a progressive
reduction in the multi-generational differentiation and transmission
among members of the family.
Inappropriate Populations for the Theory
The theory would be inappropriate for individuals who are undergoing
extreme distress as they would be having problems expressing themselves
or even their family dynamics in relation to the problems they face
(American Psychological Association, 2006).
Therapist’s Role
The therapist has the role of examining the changes that have occurred
in family dynamics and relationships, as well as identify the
The therapist must relate the behavior and expectations of the client to
the overall behavior of the family, as well as the forces that have
altered family behavior (American Psychological Association, 2006).
Client’s Role
It is imperative that the client is open to examining his or her family
dynamics, especially with regard to the changing or differentiated
behaviors of generations (American Psychological Association, 2006).
Theory Strengths
The techniques come off as practical and straightforward, with families
being encouraged to examine their families of origin, as well as
comprehend the origin of the family patterns so as to enable forgiveness
and change.
Theory Limitations
The theory has been criticized for its emphasis on differentiation,
which may not apply to cultures that place a high value on
The theory has attracted criticism from feminists who opine that healthy
functioning is defined using male standards without placing any value on
the manner in which women relate to others (American Psychological
Association, 2006).
In addition, there exist no system or structure for developing
relational capabilities, a factor that falsely creates the impression
that the differentiation process develops the abilities (American
Psychological Association, 2006).
Key Terms
Sibling position- individuals who have similar sibling position
incorporate crucial common traits. For instance, first born kids, are
apt at taking leadership positions while lastborns tend to be followers.
Emotional cut-off – individuals, in some instances, manage any
unresolved emotional issues with their siblings, parents and other
members of their family through a reduction or complete elimination of
emotional contact with them (American Psychological Association, 2006).
Bowel notes that such strategies do not resolve anything, and there is
the risk of elevating new relationships to a level where they are too
Family projection process- this concept outlines the manner in which
parents transmit or broadcast their emotional issues to their kids. This
may result from their unrealistic appraisal of their kids, which may
result in inability dealing with expectations (American Psychological
Association, 2006).
Is this Theory Research-based?
The theory was research based as Bowel tested it using his family as
Narrative therapies- this is a technique of therapy that tries to
separate an individual from the problems. It is based on the belief that
the identity of an individual is formed through his or her narratives or
Key Concepts
Dominant story- this is the problem that is assessed for its influences
and effects on an individual’s life.
Externalizing emphasis- involves the naming of an issue so as to allow
an individual to evaluate the impact it has on his life.
Unique outcomes- exceptions of the problem that would be unlikely to be
predicted by the story or problem’s narrative.
Key Theorists
The theory was developed by David Epston (from New Zealand) and Michael
White (from Australia)
Appropriate Populations for the Theory
This theory is applicable to individuals who have had opportunities to
visualize better futures or lives for themselves or who lived such lives
in the past. This is because it depends on the ability of the client to
make preferred narratives that are rich, as well as meaningful.
Inappropriate Populations for the Theory
Mentally handicapped or challenged individuals would be inappropriate as
they cannot conceptualize their present lives nor can they create
narratives or visualize a better life than they already have.
Therapist’s Role
The narrative therapist assists the client to examine, assess, as well
as modify his or her relationship to a problem. In this regard, the
therapist takes the position of an investigative reporter who poses
questions to the client ant assists them to externalize the underlying
problem, as well as investigate it.
Client’s Role
As much as the therapist directs the conversation, it is imperative that
the client is willing to prop himself up in devising a solution to the
issues that he is facing. He must be willing to open up to the therapist
so that the therapist can assist him in getting another dimension to the
problems, as well as solutions to the same.
Theory Strengths
The key strength of the theory lays on its remarkable outcomes on the
consulting individual. It creates the impression on the client that he
or she is not one with the issues or problems that he is facing, in
which case they acquire new knowledge and images pertaining to the
problem, as well as the selected alternate life direction.
It has been seen as allowing the empowerment of the client as he or she
is placed as an expert where he understands his story and tries to make
predictions about it.
Theory Limitations
Narrative theory has attracted widespread criticism based on the fact
that it tends to hold onto constructionist beliefs to the effect that
there exists no absolute truths, rather there are only
socially-sanctioned perspectives or points of view. In this case, the
narrative therapists are seen as giving privilege to the concerns of the
clients above the dominant cultural narratives.
In addition, it deficiency of empirical or clinical studies to make
valid its claims has brought it criticism. Critics note that the
concentration of the therapy on qualitative outcomes negates or is not
harmonious with qualitative research and findings that have been
employed in most respected empirical studies. In essence, there exists
no research material that can validate the theory’s claim to efficacy.
In addition, critics note that the narrative therapist may incorporate
personal biases and opinions in the therapy sessions, which distorts the
results. This is in addition to the fact that narrative therapists are
seen as overly harsh about a large number of other therapies.
Key Terms
Outsider witness- this refers to an invited listener to the consultation
and may be the client’s friend or even the therapist’s past clients
who incorporate their own experience and knowledge pertaining to the
problem at hand.
Externalization- this refers to a technique where the roles of a
person’s ideals, beliefs, values and behaviors are explored with
regard to their effect on the narrative of the client. The therapist
would then assist the client in writing the negative areas that are
outlined in the narrative.
Objectification- this is a technique where clients are allowed to see
their problems via a new perspective, where they change the character
dynamics thereby allowing for manipulation and modification of the story
to give the narrative a new ending.
Is this Theory Research-based? Evidence-based?
The theory is not evidence based. The concentration of the therapy tends
to be on qualitative outcomes that are not in line with the quantitative
research findings that have been employed by a wide range of respected
empirical studies. This has resulted in deficiency of research materials
that can validate claims pertaining to its efficacy.
Solution-focused therapies
Key Concepts
Scaling questions- these refer to tools used in identifying crucial
variations for clients and may be helpful in establishing goals.
Coping questions- these questions have been crafted in such a manner
that they give information pertaining to the resources of the client
that would not have been noticed.
Exception seeking questions- these are questions through which the
counselor encourages the client to outline the varied circumstances
pertaining to a certain case.
Key Theorists
Steve de Shazer
Insoo Kim Berg
These two theorists were influenced by Milton Erickson’s works.
Appropriate Populations for the Theory
Schizophrenic individuals, alcoholics, suicidal individuals, gamblers,
individuals experiencing parent-child conflicts
Inappropriate Populations for the Theory (Explain why.)
Mentally handicapped individuals cannot benefit from this therapy as
they would be incapable of examining their problems, leave along
participating in the devising of solutions.
Therapist’s Role
The therapist examines the aspects of the patient’s life that he wants
to modify, as well as those that he would want to remain unchanged.
The therapist collaborates with the client to come up with a vision
pertaining to the manner in which a likely future would look. In this
case, it is imperative that they undertake comprehensive definition of
the possible future so as to give the client a clear mental picture of
the same.
The therapist would then lead the client to finding certain moments in
their lives when they had similar feelings to what they experience in
their likely future image.
Client’s Role
The client must be willing to open up to his or her past experiences.
As much as the therapist leads the client in creating a mental picture
pertaining to the likely future, the client has to correlate the picture
with the vision that he or she had in the past pertaining to the same.
This would allow them to identify the actions that they made in the past
in an effort to attain the same the same outcome as the one he wanted in
the future.
Theory Strengths
The therapy is flexible and collaborative, in which case it is
effective in resolving complicated family problems, especially those
that involve issues pertaining to children protection.
Theory Limitations
The theory does not use valid or reliable outcome measures.
In addition, there is little information pertaining to the manner in
which the varied elements of the therapy may be used and blended with
varied client types, problem areas or complementary interventions.
Key Terms
Problem-free talk- this technique is useful in identifying the resources
that would help an individual to relax or enhance his assertiveness. The
talk draws from leisure activities, beliefs and values of the client, as
well as the meetings that the client may have had with friends.
Is this Theory Research-based?
This theory is not research based as it does not incorporate valid
outcome measures.
Structural family therapy
Key Concepts
Joining- this refers to the process that a therapist uses t enter the
family system so as to diagnose the dysfunction source, comprehend the
manner in which the family sees or perceives reality, as well as develop
therapeutic goals (Sharf, 2004).
Accommodation- this refers to the process that the therapist adapts so
as to enter into the family system, as well as the process through which
the family underwent in order to make some modifications.
Boundaries- these refer to family rules that determine the
responsibilities and membership in the system.
Key Theorists
Salvador Minuchin
Appropriate Populations for the Theory
The theory is applicable in well articulated family functioning model.
Inappropriate Populations for the Theory (Explain why.)
This therapy has been found inapplicable in dysfunctional families as
they have mixed subsystems, as well as improper hierarchies of power.
Therapist’s Role
The therapist must have the appropriate attitude that will allow him or
her to adapt to the style of the family, as well as design interventions
that are a reflection of the distinctive aspects of the family.
Client’s Role
The client has to be capable of identifying the family structures,
hierarchies and levels, as well as the roles pertaining to them. They
must identify the rules of interaction, how they influence their
communication, as well as the consequent implications (Sharf, 2004).
Theory Strengths
The theory has been found to be extremely effective in effecting change
as it is an action-oriented therapy.
Theory Limitations
Critics note that the theory does not incorporate clear
oprationalization of its constructs as to allow for research to be
carried out.
In addition, feminists criticize the theory stating that it ignored
variations n gender, political and social-cultural contexts pertaining
to family life, and that it did not consider issues pertaining to
differential vulnerability and power of women and men to exploitation
(Sharf, 2004).
The theory has also been criticized as inadequate as a family theory, as
it did not sufficiently involve or incorporate biopsychosocial
Key Terms
Coalitions- these refer to negative alliances formed between two or more
members of the family.
Triangles- this is a term that underlines the triadic interactional
configurations that are the fundamental block building any emotional
system. They are deemed stable as the third person eliminates the
anxiety existing between two individuals.
Family belief systems- this concept is used to underline the fact that
problems are maintained by the construction of the family about the
problem (Sharf, 2004).
Is this Theory Evidence-based?
The model is evidence-based as it allows for the conceptualization of
the problem so as come up with the appropriate strategy that enables
comprehension of the issue or problem with clarity.
Feminist Therapy
Key Concepts
In feminist therapy, problems are seen through cultural and
sociopolitical context.
It is assumed that clients are experts and are privy to what is best for
their lives.
Conventional concepts pertaining to assessment of psychological health
can be challenged.
The therapist encourages the client to take action.
The therapy is built on the concept that individual modification takes
place best via social change.
Key Theorists
Judith Worrell
Laura Brown, Carolyn Enns
Jean Baker Miller
Bonnie Burstow
Sandra Bem
Ellyn Kaschak
Pam Remer
Judith Jordan
Appropriate Populations for the Theory
Women who have been oppressed and living in patriarchal societies.
Inappropriate Populations for the Theory (Explain why.)
Women in the modern world with equal rights with their male counterparts
as they cannot relate to the notion of having been ignored or demeaned
on the basis of their sex or gender.
Therapist’s Role
The therapist has a duty to create an environment that promotes a
certain level of intimacy so as to allow for openness. This can only be
attained through openness and genuineness on the side of the therapist
(Sharf, 2004).
The therapist must encourage the client to recognize and acknowledge her
own strengths, especially considering that most victims are deficient of
faith in their own strengths and abilities. He must strive to enhance
the strengths rather than seeking to remedy the inadequacies.
The therapist is required to honor the healing process of the client so
that it can occur at the client’s pace. He would, therefore, be merely
acting as a guide with the client controlling the pace, destination and
the stops.
Client’s Role
The client is required to open up to the therapist about any underlying
factors pertaining to her problems. This will allow for proper
evaluation of the problems that she faces.
In addition, the client should be open to acknowledging her strengths
and exercising them at her own pace (Sharf, 2004). She must acknowledge
the demeaning aspects of the environment within which she lives and be
willing to tackle them.
Theory Strengths
The key strength of the theory rests on its capacity to underline the
capabilities of an individual and enhance personal growth in women. It
has been noted as essential in enhancing the self-esteem and confidence
of women.
Theory Limitations
Critics note that the family therapy tends to promote and embrace varied
discredited and inaccurate priori assumptions, especially the notion
that men are to blame for starting, perpetuating and perpetrating a
large percentage of interpersonal violence.
On the same note, the theory is seen as encouraging a one-size-fits-all
technique that assumes that a large percentage of problems from patients
emanate from their living in zexist, patriarchal or oppressive cultures.
As much as living in such conditions may be a precursor, the therapy
tends to ignore other likely sources of problems such as substance
abuse, family dynamics, mental illnesses, cognitive distortions and
On the same note, the presumption by the therapy that women are always
under oppression may worsen their feelings of helplessness as they place
their locus of control outside themselves.
Key Terms
Conscious raising- these are sessions where small groups of women
discuss their shared and individual experiences.
Analysis of social and gender role- this analysis involves the
assessment of the psychological distress of the client, as well as her
coping techniques.
Resocialization involves reorganization of the belief system of the
patient to have a different perspective, as well as have new strategies
and skills of coping (Sharf, 2004).
Is this Theory Research-based? Evidence-based?
This theory was not evidence based nor was it research based as it did
not involve any scientific or empirical research, rather it grew out of
a social movement, where women wanted to assert their rightful position
in the society (Sharf, 2004). In fact, the key criticism of the theory
is that goes against the goals and techniques of psychotherapy.
Strategic models
Key Concepts- key concepts in Strategic model mainly revolve around the
Brief therapy stage- this stage aims at observing the interactions of
the family and creating an open an calm mood for the therapy session and
tries to enhance the participation of all family members (Sharf, 2004).
Problem stage- phase where the therapist seeks to determine the problem
through posing questions.
Interactional stage-where the therapy urges family members to discuss
the problem to allow for enhanced understanding of the underlying
dynamics in the family.
Goal-setting stage- where the therapist and family members highlight the
issue that must be addressed.
Final stage- marks the phase where tasks are set, with the therapist
coming up with comprehensive directives or homework assignments that
enhance modification of the problem in the family (Sharf, 2004).
Key Theorists
Jay Haley
Cloe Madanes
The two theorists were inspired by the works of Milton Erickson, as well
as Don Jackson
Appropriate Populations for the Theory
Individuals experiencing domestic conflicts, parent-child conflicts,
Inappropriate Populations for the Theory (Explain why.)
Schizophrenic and mentally challenged individuals would be inappropriate
for this therapy as they may not be able to explore the deep intricacies
pertaining to their conditions or situations.
Therapist’s Role
The therapist undertakes the identification of symptoms within families
that may be resulting in the current problems of the family and comes up
with strategies that will fix them.
The therapist chooses between the varied interventions including
prescribing the symptom, paradoxical intervention and relabeling
Client’s Role
The client must be willing to explore the deep intricacies that exist in
the family and expose his or her response to them in a genuine manner.
Theory Strengths
The technique mainly involves modification of the communication styles
within the family. Communication has been found as fundamental in any
form of human relations, in which case the theory strengthens family
bonds and enhances the empathy they have for each other (Sharf, 2004).
The therapy also has a hands-on approach to fixing the problems that a
family experiences, with the therapy trying to inset themselves to the
problem as a way of solving the family problems.
Theory Limitations
It tends to place the control on the hands of the therapist, which may
limits its validity and applicability, especially in instances where the
patients feel threatened or want to maintain control.
Scholars also state that the theory breeds dependence as the client may
be unable to tackle the problems by themselves in the future.
Key Terms
Paradox-this refers to puzzle or contradiction arising in the course of
the therapy. Interventions that involve the utilization of paradox are
founded on the notion that families that experience problems or
difficulties are more likely to be resistant to the initiation or
introduction of change. In essence, it would be more useful to ask them
to modify in a manner that seems to contradict the desired goals or to
forbid them to change (Sharf, 2004). Their rebellion would result in the
achievement of the desired results.
Double Bind- underlines a contradictory message but is commonly used in
this therapy to underline complex interactions that are characterized by
communication between two individuals, repeated communication, and
communication with a command forbidding an individual from carrying out
a certain act under the threat of punishment. The complex interactions
also incorporate a secondary abstract injunction where a threat of
punishment contradicts the previous one, as well as a third negative
injunction that necessitates a response while preventing escape, thereby
binding the recipient (Sharf, 2004). The sixth component or
characteristic is that the recipient is conditioned or obligated to
respond, in which case the sequence becomes unnecessary in maintaining
the symptom.
Is this Theory Research-based?
This theory is research based considering that it emanated from the
works of Milton Erickson who had come up with revolutionary paradoxical
interventions capitalizing on the natural reluctance of individuals to
modifying so as to have rapid change in psychiatric symptoms (Sharf,
2004). The strategies involved the application of the science of
cybernetics to patterns of communication in the family.
Sharf, R. (2004). Theories of Psychotherapy & Counselling. (3rd Ed.).
Pacific Grove, CA: Thomson Learning.
American Psychological Association (APA) (2006). Evidence Based Practice
in Psychology, American Psychologist, May-June, 271-285.